Hogan's Alley

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Equal Pay For Unequal Work?

In winning yesterday's Women's Final at Wimbeldon, Venus Williams earned the same pay check as today's male winner will earn. After the match Venus, who easily outmastered her younger opponent in strait sets, noted the happy arrival of gender equality at the All England Club.

But how can it be true equality when at Wimbeldon and in all of tennis, women play only three sets per match at most while men play up to five sets per match? The notion of the arrival of equality in tennis seems to be being taken for granted. Here, for example is the Times in London's take on yesterday's victory by Ms. Williams:

However, this was supposedly not just the showpiece match of female tennis, a sport that once again has received a huge cash boost in this fortnight with the news that the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships will have prize money commensurate to the men’s Masters Cup. It was also an opportunity to celebrate the wisdom of the decision by the All England Club to finally bow to demands for financial parity.
I enjoy tennis. For many years in the 90's I regularly attended the US Open in New York. It is certainly crystal clear in person and even via the TV that men are bigger, stronger, faster and harder hitting than women. That is simply the way the physical cards have been dealt.

No credible person is even suggesting that our new found pay equality should be the entry point into a scheme by which men and women would compete against one another in the same set of pairings. It is obvious to most that in such an arrangement, a woman would rarely, if ever, survive to the championship. Let us remember that even the greatest advocate for prize equality in tennis, Billie Jean King, could only defeat the 55 year old Bobby Riggs, who was 25 years her senior, in a large scale joke that masqueraded as a tennis match.

Why can women only play three sets per match? Are they inherently weaker? Are they incapable of standing the physical strain? Will they suffer the vapors? The question must be asked. For the consumer of the sport, the paying fans who fill the stands around the world, the same price is paid for entry to a men's or women's match. And that price is measured in the hundreds of dollars or more for a grand slam match. Yet the consumer will surely receive less tennis and arguably a less powerful though possibly subtler game for their money.

I would argue that there is no physical reason for women being restricted to three sets. It is a tradition that established itself in the Victorian age and was codified at a time when women generally were seen as not the equals of men in almost any respect. Haven't we reached the point were the last residue of that ancient view should be put to the sleep it deserves?

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